'Who lost Iraq?' The political fight over America’s longest war

As the situation in Iraq deteriorates, the Washington blame game begins. The Obama administration for pulling out or the Bush administration for invading and occupying Iraq in the first place?

Karim Kadim/AP
Iraqi Shiite tribal fighters deploy with their weapons while chanting slogans against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to help the military, which defends the capital in Baghdad's Sadr City, Iraq,

“Who lost Iraq?”

As it was with “Who lost China?” and “Who lost Vietnam?” the blame game over America’s longest war is raging in Washington as the US-backed Iraq military abandons its weapons, sheds its uniforms, and runs for cover in the face of a smaller, less well-equipped insurgency.

In essence, the sides in the debate line up this way:

Congressional hawks, Bush administration neocons, and some US military veterans who fought in Iraq say President Obama and his advisors were much too quick to pull US combat forces out of Iraq after a successful troop “surge,” leaving that sorry country to face the threat of insurgents backed by Al Qaeda and other no-gooders in the volatile region.

Sen. John McCain says Obama should fire his entire national security team, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. “They have been a total failure,” Sen. McCain says.
 The other side – progressives, most academic experts, and some in the military – argues that the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq was a huge mistake in the first place, based on intentionally-mistaken reasoning (“weapons of mass destruction,” Saddam Hussein’s alleged connivance with al Qaeda) and driven by the Bush administration’s desire to lash out after 911, not to mention control rich oil resources.

In the Boston Globe recently, retired US Army colonel and Boston University history professor Andrew Bacevich wrote of “the thousands of Americans killed, the tens of thousands wounded, and the trillions of dollars expended in the Iraq war.”

“Should the architects and promoters of the Iraq war venture into the confessional, they won’t be let off easily,” writes professor Bacevich, whose son, a young Army lieutenant, was killed in Iraq.

Another poignant note….

Nine years ago, as US losses grew in Iraq, I wrote about the role of women in combat under the headline “Do US women belong in the thick of the fighting?”  The lead reference was to Pfc. Sam Huff, a young woman killed when the humvee she was driving as part of a military police unit hit an IED in Baghdad. She was 18 years old.

I had talked with her father at that time, but had no contact since then. This week, Robert Huff sent me this email: “Nine years ago following the death of my Daughter, PFC Sam Williams Huff you asked me if I felt the war in Iraq was worth the sacrifice. I couldn't answer then because it was too early to realize the historic significance of our (U.S.) intervention. After the recent events in Iraq it's obvious that it was not. We lost 4,500 of some of the most patriotic and dedicated young people in the United States and it appears, for nothing.”

That heart-rending note pretty accurately reflects US public attitudes about Iraq today.

Earlier this year, a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll found that by 50-38 percent Americans had concluded that the US made the wrong decision in using military force in Iraq.

A CNN/ORC poll found that most of those surveyed (62-37 percent) thought that “the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq.”

"All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Iraq was worth fighting, or not?" asked an ABC News/Washington Post poll. By 58-38 percent, a majority thought the war had not been worth fighting for.

CBS News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, and Gallup all had similar results.

“Inevitably, in Washington, the question has surfaced: Who lost Iraq?” writes CNN host and Time magazine editor at large Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post.

“Whenever the United States has asked this question – as it did with China in the 1950s or Vietnam in the 1970s – the most important point to remember is: The local rulers did,” Zakaria writes. “The Chinese nationalists and the South Vietnamese government were corrupt, inefficient and weak, unable to be inclusive and unwilling to fight with the dedication of their opponents. The same story is true of Iraq, only much more so.”

“Washington is debating whether [US] airstrikes or training [Iraqi] forces would be more effective, but its real problem is much larger and is a decade in the making,” he writes. “In Iraq, it is defending the indefensible.”

Which is the conclusion most Americans apparently have reached as well.

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